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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Santa Fe Mayor's Race Tightens; Poll From PAC Favoring Gonzales Says Bushee Lead Shrinks, Plus: More From Readers On Merging State Campuses 

Dimas, Gonzales & Bushee
Interim ABQ Police Chief Allen Banks announced Wednesday he will be retiring from APD to take a job as chief of police in Round Rock, Texas.

Political junkies don't have to wait until the June primary for election action. They have the Santa Fe mayor's race to entertain them. And judging from the latest polling we should have a spirited battle down the final stretch to the March 4 election.

Former NM Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales has made significant progress closing his polling gap with front-runner Patti Bushee, according to a survey of 400 registered voters conducted by Third Eye Strategies for Santa Fe Working Families, a political action committee that is supporting Gonzales.

City Councilor Bushee leads Gonzales 28% to 24% with City Councilor Bill Dimas pulling 16%. 31% of those polled are undecided. The poll's margin of error is about 5%. It was conducted in mid-January. The results are here but most crosstabs were not released and neither was the wording of the question that asked voters their mayoral preference.

We confirmed the race is tightening and not just a spin attempt by the Gonzales camp. Our Santa Fe Alligators report a recent poll conducted for the Bushee confirmed that the race has narrowed but she retained the lead.

In an October survey done for the liberal advocacy group Progress NM, Third Eye Strategies had Bushee with a better than two to one lead over Gonzales. She was getting 24% and Gonzales and Dimas garnered 11% each.

Two candidates have since dropped out of the race, apparently benefiting Gonzales. Bushee also had a stumble when controversy erupted over her campaign's finances.

The undecided in the October survey was at 39%, compared to the January undecided of 31%. Considering the intense coverage the race has received in the local press, that seems high and is probably telling us that turnout for the election is going to be low. Many of the undecided are not going to vote. Also, polling in these small races can often meet with resistance from those being called.

We see a lower turnout giving Bushee an edge. She has been on the ballot for many years in the capital and her supporters are more likely to vote.

The poll had Bushee with a favorable rating of 47% and Gonzales at 43%.

All three remaining candidates qualified for $60,000 in public financing which they will now begin to spend in earnest, but Gonzales is also going to get support from two political action committees. That is causing a campaign finance controversy for him, but it will mean there will be more Gonzales ads in the final month.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

The news:

New Mexico is tied with Mississippi for having the highest percentage of fourth graders who can’t read at grade level, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In both states, 79 percent of fourth graders can’t read at grade level, the report said.

That's sure to renew the debate over the Guv's proposal to hold back 3rd graders until they can read at grade level.

And more:

New Mexico added 3,200 jobs in the 12 months that ended Dec. 31 for a 0.4 percent growth rate, which was the lowest among states in the region, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Six industry sectors gained jobs during the year, four lost jobs and one remained even, and the state’s unemployment rate held steady at 6.4 percent in December, the BLS said. However, the state’s civilian labor force--people who are looking for work--declined by 18,500 and totaled 920,100 at December’s end.

Not much new there. We are adding some jobs, but people continue to leave the state and/or the work force.

FIX IS IN

There are nearly as many fixes for the state's  financially ailing lottery scholarship program as there are bets at the craps tables in Vegas. The analogy is probably appropriate for the popular scholarships that are funded through gambling, but what state legislator would be able to recite the 32 proposed fixes?

For the New Mexico Higher Education Department, the search for a solution to the Lottery Scholarship’s solvency issue might be in any of 32 offered scenarios. The department has provided legislators with 32 solvency scenarios to help them decide how to answer the long-term question of funding the Scholarship.

With 32 ways to skin this cat, the smart money is betting that we get a lottery scholarship fix, even as the lottery itself remains one of the worst bets out there...

URGE TO MERGE

The education talk in this corner of late has centered on a long pondered fix for the state's crowded university scene. We all know we have too many of them, but consolidating them into the two major schools--UNM and NMSU--is about as popular with rural legislators and residents as banning green chile. reader John Bussanich kicks off our latest round of emails on the topic:

I like your provocative suggestions to close the regional universities or at least some of them. I guess the reader who complained about your not mentioning NM Tech didn't read the ABQ Journal article about the troubling situation there: top faculty leaving, shrinking faculty numbers and very low morale. Perhaps some of the regional universities should be transformed into community colleges, whence students can transfer to the larger institutions. This scenario would be more cost effective than the current structure.

Reader Alan Schwartz writes:

Joe, I'm a little confused. Did you propose shutting down all the rural colleges? I thought you were advocating integrating them into either UNM or NMSU thus eliminating a lot of duplicative overhead. That whole current setup has been a mystery to me since moving here 18 years ago. In California we had the University and State University (formally State College) systems. It's worth noting that these two systems were and are not "co-equal." The UC system has higher entrance requirements.

We suggested keeping the regional schools like Western NM operating, but merging their operations  into NMSU and/or UNM.

Reader and longtime NM opinion columnist Harold Morgan writes:

The broader point is that our Constitution is a complete mess and should be thoroughly revised. At minimum all ten of the institutions enshrined in the Constitution (I think it is ten) should be pulled from the Constitution so that a sensible structure could be created. States such as Colorado, Texas and Wisconsin created statewide systems a long time ago. 

Amen to that, Harold.

From Taos, attorney Helen Laura Lopez comes with this:

Joe, Here is some interesting information that tells me higher education in NM is as much political as it is educational. Arizona has 5 public universities and 21 community colleges. Arizona's population is around 6.55 million. New Mexico has 5 public universities and 19 community college and a population around 2.08 million.

THE TREND

State legislative Dems have been stymied in advancing any number of issues by Republican Governor Martinez and the Senate's "Martinez Democrats."

This year many Dems are trying to take a detour around those obstacles by proposing a slew of constitutional amendments that would go to the voters for a decision. Veteran Roundhouse observer Walt Rubel weighs in:

While there is something of a pure democracy feel to the idea of putting all these issues to a vote, we are still a representative democracy. And, a majority of voters in New Mexico elected Martinez to lead the state. There are times when it is necessary to change the Constitution. Amendments last year reforming the Public Defenders Office and Public Regulation Commission made both bodies stronger. But, amending the Constitution simply to get around the duly elected governor seems like an abuse of process.

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